Again?


Even the most liveable city in the world sometimes is not enough. When the urge to smell the bush, feel the breeze, see the vistas, hear the creak of leather becomes too strong to ignore and a dear friend sends you a link to Watson trail rides

http://watsonstrailrides.com.au/
How could I resist?

So here I am – 3 hours out of Melbourne in Mansfield – with an adventure about to begin

Well the truth is it began sometime time ago when I booked ‘on the web’ my accommodation for tonight in Mansfield – at the Mansfield Travellers Lodge – pleased as punch I was with myself until too many emails from the USA made me suspicious. On checking my booking – I was scheduled to arrive at Mansfield Travellers Lodge -Ohio 😂😩🇺🇸

Rewind – I won’t bore you with the rest of the fiasco – think dumb blonde!!!! However I did feel better when I discovered I was not the first person to make this mistake!

However all’s well that ends well they say; though in this case I should say, starts well as here I am in Mansfield Victoria Australia at the start of my riding adventure
Backpackers lodge – why wouldn’t I at $40 a night, (bring your sleeping bag) and being Monday I have the dormitory to myself!! And the kindest manager, who clearly felt I couldn’t be trusted, after my failed booking, (- not the first person he assured me ) to find the stables unaided; has given me a detailed map for tomorrow – so appreciated

A stroll round the town prior to my dinner has me wondering about this ride – I see only people in snow gear here, coming off the mountain – you hear that peculiar sound their pants make as they walk, before you even see them. And the sight of the sun on the still snow capped mountain takes my breathe away – no photo could do it justice.

So as I sit in the local pub with my local wine (Snobs Creek Pinot Noir😂) and lasagne I reassure myself : regardless of snow, rain or shine it’s all about the horse.

But will I be warm enough, will my body hold up, will I dismount or be dismounted?

Tomorrow will tell

Mansfield
Warm welcome
Filled the gaps

Contentment

It is difficult to put into words the sense of well being that is possible after a long day of physical adventure, a hot bath, a seat on the verandah – as opposed to a seat on a horse 🙂

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We are in the Howqua Valley, the river in front of me; the sound of its strong flow mingling with so many birds roosting for the night.   The sun is setting and the trees appear luminous as the last rays filter through them.   And the daffodils watch on as they clearly have done season after season.

Strange name Howqua, with equally strange possible origins, after a Chinese tea very popular during the 19th Century, after a Chinese surveyor of the area, (Ah Kin Wowqua);  a derivative of   Mount Howitt, where the river rises, and aqua; or if you prefer, after John “Howka” Hunter (1820–68), a pastoralist.  I am guessing any will do, but it is probably better known as the countryside where they filmed The Man From Snowy River.

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Which brings me back to the ride….  well almost back to the ride.   Firstly though, I must remind you that riding and taking photographs are almost mutually exclusive, and even more so when you are not riding alone and cannot just stop at will.    So most of the photographs we tried to take ended up in the ‘trash’ bin – you will need to engage your imagination if you mean to capture even a fraction of this adventure.

Day One

The most amazing porridge and coffee (Mansfield Coffee Merchants) 

 

set me up for the drive to the stables – about 30 minutes out of Mansfield.

There is, at least for me, always a few nerves involved in arriving somewhere alone on another adventure.   Will I be riding alone, and if not, who will I be riding with.

And so the ‘settling in period’ as I  jostle around the ‘edges’ to determine where in the pecking order I fit – a little, as I discovered like the horses themselves as they get chosen for the trail.

I arrived at the stables to find I was not riding alone.   Sitting comfortably and beautifully attired were a ‘couple’ – mother and daughter to be precise.   Or even more precise, Wendy and Danny.   My antennae and nerves on high alert I realised these were riders with a capital R, every fibre of their brand name gear confirmed that to me.  Almost certainly  their antennae were out as they realised this was a rider with a capital B (for beginner), as every fibre of my gear (aka Aldi & Kmart) confirmed.   I have no doubt their hearts sank at the thought of a novice holding them back.

But they were so gracious and at no point did they allow me to feel incompetent.   So grateful.

That out of the way, the next thing is to ‘navigate’ around the horses.  Which one leads, who snaps, who lingers, and let me tell you, they most certainly do have a pecking order as Danny and I discovered throughout the 2 days as our two jostled with each other.

And then there’s the saddles, apparently I was riding on a stock saddle, long stirrups, legs down, stand up when cantering, hang on the mane, lean forward so if she swings in the bush (as she did a few times) you ready to swing with her and not off her 🙂 🙂  and so it went on.   Finding bones and muscles in strange parts of my body, I settled onto the new horse, in a new saddle surrounded by Victorian Alpine countryside.

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My stock horse, Rhumba made me think on many occasions that she should be called Rumble (as in the jungle – think Mohammad Ali); nipping whenever she felt like it, putting her ears well back and warning me and Danny that any closer was a no go, deciding to trot at the most random moments, for the most random reasons and for all that, lovely to canter.    Danny had a busy time keeping her little one in line – and her years of riding experience came to the fore.

The ride was interesting with very steep climbs and even steeper declines – although I know that cannot Really be possible :).   The ground was often very muddy and the inclines such that  much of the day our eyes were down keeping a watch on our horses feet.   They slipped and slid but thankfully everyone kept their balance.   Well most of the time that is.

The countryside was breathtaking and we stopped for a photoshoot.

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We also stopped for lunch alongside the river at an old miners hut.   Which was fortunate and lovely because as we started our fire and made some hot tea, it began to rain and we were warm and snug.   By the time we were ready to ride again, the rain had moved on.

We needed to cross the river a few times and it was  surprisingly full and fast flowing.   Four of us were across when Michael’s horse (Michael being our host) lost its footing and it and he went for a swim in very cold water.    Thankfully neither was seriously hurt and we could all laugh about it once we were sure there were no major injuries.   One learns early on that there are no egos in riding – mishaps can and do happen to any and everyone if you spend long enough on or around horses.

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Truth be told, even in those tranquil riding moments when you can be lulled into a semi comatose state, your horse remains its own being with a will and strength quite independent of yourself! So I’m realising it pays always to be vigilant.

Rhumba jumped a creek and chose to land on my foot as opposed to the ground, (I wasn’t on her back at the time – just in case you wondering)   Wendy’s horse lifted her head suddenly and cracked Wendy very hard on hers (She wasn’t on her back at the time either!), ever so grateful she was wearing her helmet; Michael’s horse had a swim and so did Michael (he Was on her back at the time!)

As you can ‘see’ a lovely day one, with many hours in the saddle.   A good meal and time now for bed.

 

Day 2

If anyone snored, no one heard – we all slept warmly and long.

And our second day dawned bright and sunny.   Full of optimism about the weather I forgot for just a while that we live in Victoria where the weather changes every 20 minutes.

We wandered down to the horses, wandering how our bodies would feel as we climbed ‘aboard’ after such a long day yesterday in the saddles which were definitely ‘not custom made’ as the others usually use.

But we were fine, and up and riding in quick smart time.

Which was just as well as Rhumba was ready to rhumba, forward, sideways, anyway but quickly and for the first 1o minutes I had my hands full.

Today we were riding up and up and up past farmlands, a fabulous school camp with kids having so much fun I was tempted to stop and join them on their flying fox.  Past cattle, with heads down against the wind, almost level with a Wedge Tailed Eagle which seemed suspended in the sky as it flew into the very strong wind.   And still up and up.

To the place where that famous shot was taken,

“where even Clancy took a pull,

It well might make the boldest hold their breath,……

But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,

And he swing his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,

And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,

While the others stood and watched in very fear”  (banjo patterson)

And I must say, it was a fearful place.   None of us were game to ride to the edge, but rather relied on Michael leading our horses to ‘the spot’.   I could not look down, in fact I could not breathe in case Rhumba should think I wanted her to move.   I held her head up, just in case and thankfully swung round after ‘the photoshoot’ to safer ground!!!!

 

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And still these photos cannot describe the drop – go see the movie 🙂 🙂 🙂

 

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The weather did not invite lingering and we hurried down with a steady drizzle and wind reminding us why these hills are known as ‘the Alps’.    I had a very large oilskin which made me wonder if I would ‘take off’ when cantering as it turned me into, according to the others, a phantom rider, but kept me warm and dry in this winter weather.

And so we rode home, as we had all the way in single file, Wendy and Michael at the back talking, we couldn’t hear what they were saying, but there was a companionable constant hum of their voices reaching us when the wind was still.   And the three of us absorbed in our own worlds. The kookaburras called along the way, bellbirds sang, a wedge tail eagle alongside the road ate from a carcass, kangaroos loping across the fields every which way; standing up in the strange posture to watch us and then bouncing off.  Sheep littered the lower hills looking for all the world as though hundreds of white tissues had escaped from a tissue box and landed haphazardly round the field.   The eucalyptus forests with trees reminding me for some reason of cathedrals – Huge, imposing, reaching for the sky.  The barren hills which were pine forests, now looking forlorn and empty of any life.   And the green green hills so full of energy and promise of new life.   Wattle in flower was everywhere, a bright yellow which when the sun caught it seemed to shimmer with a promise of abundance not yet here.

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And so to a lovely lunch to farewell new friends, and another adventure.

And not a moment too soon.

The drive home alone was in pouring rain, so heavy that reaching the speed limit was not possible, never mind exceeding it!!!!

My musings over the two days included gratitude that I was now in my little old car; it’s 4 wheels, a steering wheel and heater rather than my new friend, Rhumba, her 4 legs, reins and an oil skin.

Oh and did I tell you?

The Howqua River was one of just thirteen locations worldwide featured on the fly fishing documentary television series A River Somewhere.[8] 

That bit of trivia for my fishing friends – best come visit!